While the National Cotton Council was able to attain its goals of protection payment eligibility requirements and current payment limits during the congressional budgeting process that saw $3 billion whacked out of farm programs, the organization’s chairman says “We’re concerned about the ramifications of these provisions in the next farm bill debate.”

The process of developing new farm legislation is just beginning, Woods Eastland told those attending the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences at San Antonio, Texas, and congressional farm bill hearings will begin later this year and continue into early 2007.

“Our actions to protect the budget authority and the structure and eligibility provisions of the current act will build the foundation for our position on new legislation,” he said.

Eastland, who heads the StaplCotn cooperative at Greenwood, Miss., gave credit to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees for “working hard to develop budget packages that minimize the damage to the current farm law structure and to producer income.” Several cotton belt senators successfully led a bipartisan coalition in stopping the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit amendment, he noted. The council and virtually every other farm and commodity organization supported rejection of the amendment, which would have reduced the overall payment limit cap from $360,000 to $250,000, while eliminating the three-entity rule that would have required direct attribution of payments and redefining what is considered “actively engaged.”

The amendment would also have made the use of commodity certificates count toward a producer’s payment limit.

Final package

“The final reconciliation package contains no across-the-board cuts for commodity programs, but it does reduce advance direct payments for the 2006 and 2007 crops, and provided for the early termination of the cotton Step 2 program on Aug. 1 this year,” Eastland said.

The Step 2 program, while not maintained through the life of the farm bill, was not immediately eliminated as had been proposed by USDA.

“Our primary agenda in 2005 was defending the U.S. cotton program and attaining sound trade policy,” he said. The Bush administration had presented a budget proposal for significant changes in farm program supports, with $5.7 billion in cuts over 10 years.

“Elements of that program were very severe,” Eastland said, “and were unfairly targeted toward cotton, rice, and peanuts. The council worked with Congress and the administration to deliver the message that the farm bill is a multi-year contract that provides necessary stability for U.S. agriculture and consumers.”

During 2005, he said, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns got an early start on development of the new farm bill by conducting forums in 40 states to solicit grower input. The USDA listening sessions in cotton belt states were attended by industry leaders who voiced strong support for maintaining many of the current act’s provisions.

Additionally, several members of Congress held forums in their districts and throughout their states, which were well-attended. “An extensive effort was made to deliver cotton’s message consistently,” Eastland said.

Submitted comments

In response to a Federal Register notice that followed the USDA farm bill listening sessions, the council submitted comments on a number of policy considerations and emphasized its support for the legislation, pointing out its importance to the current structure and stability of U.S. agriculture, including the vital role of the marketing loan program and opposition to payment limits.

“We stressed the need to maintain stable, predictable, and equitable farm policy as we look forward to the next farm bill,” he said.

With outstanding research programs and new, innovative technologies, “I believe our industry has excellent prospects for achieving profitable cotton production and processing,” Eastland said. “There are efforts under way in a wide array of scientific disciplines to reduce costs and apply technology to a host of problems and opportunities.”

Several thousand people, representing all segments of the cotton industry, attend the annual Beltwide conferences.

e-mail:hbrandon@prismb2b.com